There is an excerpt of a Steve Jobs interview that has recently been making the rounds on Twitter. In it Jobs explains his frustration with the “disease” of thinking that 90% of success lies in “great ideas.”
The excerpt spoke to my experience in writing Where the Air Is Sweet. The germ of the book was a great idea: A real life story about ethnic cleansing that hadn’t been told countless times in books or movies or magazine features.
And I’ve had aspiring writers to say to me on more than one occasion, “You’re so lucky you had a great story to tell. I wish I had that.” Apart from the ludicrous idea that having experienced displacement, trauma, poverty etc. etc. at a young age constitutes luck, this is patently ridiculous. There are lots of great stories out there. Shakespeare borrowed plots. They weren’t a big deal. His execution, on the other hand, was a very big deal. In other words, craftsmanship — art — demands skill, effort and discipline.
I knew somewhere in my consciousness that I wanted to tell this story for about 20 years. I knew it had value and meaning for me, and I knew from the perspective of a reader of novels and as a journalist that it had story value. But it wasn’t until I began writing it, actually writing it, mapping it out, deciding what to include, how to express it, perspective and tense and themes, and engaging my brain and letting the story pull in the directions it wanted to pull that it became something. And this process of it “becoming something” — of creating — was magic. Characters went in directions I had not planned. Words flowed with a music I didn’t know I could express. Editors came into my life who helped shape a stronger book. I found energy and time to write when I had been convinced, 100% convinced, I possessed very little of either.
In the words of Steve Jobs, the late master of ideas and their execution: